Former Governor Jim Guy Tucker is one of three living Arkansas governors to have carried out a state execution – the other two being Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee. With the state on the precipice of eight executions in a 10-day period, a renewed focus has centered on the death penalty in Arkansas, an effort Tucker says should happen.
Tucker, a Democrat, says it is the most difficult decision a governor carries out in his duties.
“I tried to excuse myself from the responsibility for it, but the fact remains that a governor who allows an execution to go forward has allowed that person to die. That person very well may have deserved to die,” he said in an exclusive interview with Talk Business & Politics. “The sentence that was given is under our laws, and you do want to be sure the sentence is carried out in a way that complies with the United States Constitution, that does not deprive the citizen of their equal rights under the law, and is not cruel and unusual punishment.”
Serving as governor from 1992 to 1996, Tucker oversaw nine executions. He described the process he went through before carrying out the solemn responsibility of a state execution.
“There is no way to prepare for it. I had been in Vietnam in ’65 and ’67, and although I was there as a civilian photojournalist, I saw an awful lot of people killed in war time. The decision, when you’re sitting as governor, and you have the power to stop an execution, but you have a duty by the same token to follow the law, unless there’s some reason for that, it is very hard. I prayed about it and I read carefully the entire case file, including transcripts of the cases involved before I made a decision on that case,” he said.
“There are some horrible crimes committed. I can’t say I am opposed to the death penalty. I seldom think that it is a matter of premeditation to the degree that the existence of the death penalty would deter the crime. The question is did it meet the other standards we want to set as a civilized people for executing somebody,” Tucker said in the interview.
Tucker served as a prosecuting attorney, Attorney General, Congressman, Lt. Governor and Governor. In all but his Congressional role, he has been embroiled in the death penalty debate. As AG, he helped rewrite parts of the current criminal code, including restricting death penalty provisions to capital murder and requiring a bifurcated decision from a jury. He suggests that larger jury pools could lead to more impartial justice to address some concerns with the topic.
Of the eight executions that will take place later in April, the method for carrying out the death penalty will be lethal injection. While the courts struggled for years with the combination of drugs to administer, Arkansas has struggled to find an ample supply. Tucker said the death penalty debate should remain a topic of conversation among citizens despite the controversy.
“Much of the debate right now is over how that execution should occur. Goodness, we have assisted suicide in some states in the country today that seem to be able to put people to death on purpose with their consent. So I’m not sure why I understand the medicinal death that is used in Arkansas is that difficult. But the subject matter is one that citizens should be concerned with, they oughta weigh. I happen to be a Christian and so I certainly think about it in that context and it’s hard.
This past week, Tucker’s papers from his childhood to his time in Vietnam as a journalist through his elected roles have been formally archived at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The papers include his time as Lt. Governor, when he served as acting governor regularly during Clinton’s Presidential campaign.
“I did not go through them, so these have not be carefully censored before they were delivered,” he said. “So, they’re the real thing and they’ll cover the whole range of topics that came up when I was governor, including the period where I was always acting governor when Governor Clinton was gone.”
Watch his full interview below.